by Allan Fish
(UK 2012 520m) DVD2
Let this acceptance take
p Rupert Ryle Hodges, Gareth Neame, Sam Mendes, Pippa Harris d Rupert Goold, Richard Eyre, Thea Sharrock plays William Shakespeare ph Danny Cohen, Ben Smithard, Michael McDonough ed Trevor Waite, Lesley Walker, John Wilson m Adam Cork, Stephen Warbeck, Adrian Johnston art Andrew McAlpine, Donal Woods, Max Berman cos Odile Dicks-Mireaux, Annie Symons
Tom Hiddleston (Hal/Henry V), Jeremy Irons (Henry IV), Simon Russell Beale (Sir John Falstaff), Ben Whishaw (Richard II), Rory Kinnear (Bolingbroke), Clemence Poésy (Queen Isabella), John Hurt (Chorus), David Morrissey (Northumberland), Alun Armstrong (older Northumberland), David Suchet (York), James Purefoy (Mowbray), Patrick Stewart (John of Gaunt), Lindsay Duncan (Duchess of York), Julie Walters (Mistress Quickly), Tom Georgeson (Bardolph), Joe Armstrong (Hotspur), Michelle Dockery (Kate Percy), Maxine Peake (Doll Tearsheet), David Dawson (Poins), Harry Lloyd (Mortimer), David Hayman (Worcester), Iain Glen (Warwick), David Bradley (gardener), David Bamber (Justice Shallow), Lambert Wilson (Charles VI), Melanie Thierry (Princess Katherine), Geoffrey Palmer (Lord Chief Justice), Paul Ritter (Pistol), Anton Lesser (Exeter), Owen Teale (Fluellen), Geraldine Chaplin (Alice),
2012 was always going to be a patriotic year for the British; Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, London Olympics and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. The BBC prepared for this landmark and, though the summer of 2012, we had a host of programming, from a typically gripping documentary from Simon Schama to behind the scene documentaries with actors Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Irons and David Tennant. Yet all paled beside the adaptations of four successive Shakespeare history plays, from Richard II through Henry IV Parts I & II to Henry V. What we were given was, despite limitations of budget, a series to at least bear comparison to the legendary An Age of Kings.
Purists may complain that there are liberties taken with the text, whole swathes and even scenes have been excised and not always for the better. In Henry V alone we have to do without the treachery of the three nobles, the butchery of the boys at the battle and the omission completely of the Scots, English and Irish captains. Yet the survival of the boy from the old Eastcheap crowd bears fruit in a touching final scene in which the boy is shown to survive and grow up to be Chorus, telling the story from the aisles of Henry’s funeral. In Richard II, the king is seen as a little effeminate, but also as a Christ parallel, in his own eyes, as we see a painting of Christ crucified seemingly brought to life (or to death) as Richard is slain in Pontefract Castle.
Throughout there are visual touches that make you wonder why it hadn’t been done before, and in recollection of some of cinema’s great historical pieces. As Henry IV charges over the dead at the Battle of Shrewsbury we see the dead Heston ride across the sands at the end of El Cid. Aumerle drags Richard’s coffin like Django. The crown is seen to float in mid-air in a confrontation between Richard and Bolingbroke, taunting both holder and usurper. Falstaff makes his honour speech as a soliloquy on the battlefield. All the cast are superb – Morrissey and Georgeson play as if born to it, Whishaw is a complex martyred Richard, Russell Beale perhaps miscast but splendid as Falstaff, Irons relishing the chance to speak real dialogue again after The Borgias and, best of all, Hiddleston, fresh from perishing on Spielberg’s western front, a truly majestic Hal/Henry; delivering ‘we happy few’ literally to just a few nobles, and brilliant in the roleplay scene in Henry IV, doing an uncanny impression of the mannerisms and vocal inflections of Irons as his father for good measure. Any faults are to be forgiven, for TV of this power and grandeur have long since ceased to be the norm. And, as if by approval, on the night the final part showed on BBC2 and Hiddleston surveyed the battlefield, another Englishman was readying to ride to Paris as the first English winner of the Tour de France. Even Shakespeare couldn’t have written that one.